Quick disclaimer: I just want ya’ll to know my heart here: I wanted to share this trip as inspiration and celebration. In NO WAY do I aim to brag or flaunt our ability to take this trip. I am beyond thankful for the time our family got to travel together and experience so much of our amazing country. I hope and pray that what you gather from this post is a sense of adventure and a desire to make memories with the people you love! That being said: Here is the second half of Makenna’s adventure!
Oooooh the Black Hills of South Dakota! They were SO serenely different from the landscape we just left in North Dakota. The pine trees and craggy rocks were so refreshing and we instantly wanted to get out to explore. It was a weighty decision to choose between Deadwood and Spearfish on our way south to Hill City SD, but time was of the essence so we couldn’t do both. The almost unanimous vote was Spearfish due to all the hiking possibilities and it was the perfect choice! We followed the most peaceful creek up into the mountains and fell upon the lovely Bridal Veil waterfall on our way. It was energizing to hike and run and climb mountains like wild goats and of course the grand finale of our chosen trail held another glorious waterfall!
Finally we arrived at Mount Rushmore and Makenna’s beloved Avenue of Flags. She was a happy girl! Flags of every US state were lining the walkway as we entered and the faces of four amazing presidents stood out in the background. We found our dear MI flag and read about several other states’ history and when they joined the US plus lots of bonus facts about each. The hike around the park was definitely worth it, there was information at every turn and different angles to view each president. The artist’s studio was a great source of hands on history and even had a live talk by the park ranger who was a wealth of knowledge and answered endless questions about all things geology, president and artist related. We absolutely came back at night to see the famed Illumination Ceremony (which was cool, but probably not as incredible as we were led to believe, haha) and enjoyed a second view of the mountain and flags (totally worth a second look!)
Day 2 in South Dakota: we drove to another beautiful mountainous hike which was much more strenuous than the first. I’ll suffice it to say that we felt pretty good about ourselves after getting back to the starting point and realizing there were warning labels posted at the trailhead and a hiker sign-in so the rangers knew who had entered the trail in case they didn’t return!
One other point of interest in Hill City was our campground. I know it’s just a place to sleep and by this point in the trip, we had seen a vast array of grass and cement to park a camper on, but this one was pretty incredible. We stayed at Crooked Creek Campground and the sounds of the babbling water were so invigorating and peaceful all at once! It just so happened that we got the primo spot by the bend in the river and this was our view:
We had another day of horseback riding for our 10 year old to top off the cake of our adventure! High Country Guest Ranch has endless horseback riding options, but we stuck with the trail ride through the Black Hills. And at this ranch, even the “littles” got to ride on real horses (with a guide holding the reigns)!
Eastward Ho! We finally headed back East toward home. Allllll the way across the state of South Dakota. The obvious best part was our southern detour off the main road to see the South Dakota Badlands – which are incredibly different from North Dakota’s Badlands! Both had the lovely striations and buttes that the badlands are known for, but the South Dakota Badlands lifted up from the prairies into wild peaks. The vibrancy of the sky and clouds made it all come to life as we drove through with our mouths gaping at all the beautiful differences. This park is a drive through- not a loop- so it hardly added any time to our trip, but it did not have the same hiking opportunities and there were no lovely creeks or rivers. The wildlife was so different as well – we loved the big horned sheep! Definitely glad we saw both badlands on the same trip.
A quick stop at the world-renowned Wall Drug where water is always free (an attraction during the great depression!) and coffee has been 5 cents since they opened in 1931. It was a fast and crazy mememto-shopping/donut-eating whirlwind and we made it back on the road.
Laura Ingalls Wilder has many wonderful & nostalgic stops across the mid-west. Again, for time restraints, we chose just one (as a launching point for future trips, I hope!) and we were not disappointed with our one stop. In DeSmet SD, the Ingalls Homestead has many original and recreated buildings including a school house, 2 sod houses, the church, multiple barns, Ma’s house, and actual covered wagons you can sleep in for a night! The workers amazed us with their knowledge of every book Laura ever wrote and told Laura’s stories as we made jump ropes, corn husk dolls, hay sticks and whirligigs. EVERYTHING was hands on and focused on educating kiddos about life in 1800’s Dakota Territory. There was so much to do and only 24 hours to do it in, but we SO enjoyed every minute on Laura’s beloved prairie – even in the rain 🙂 We reserved our spot early and spent the night hearing the peace and quiet and crickets while watching the sun go down over the prairie. **An unexpected bonus was exploring the gardens and sod houses before & after hours while there were no crowds!
I’ll admit that after this many days of travel and all the excitement we’ve experienced, our brains and our hearts were full! It was time to book it home and see our pups again, haha! We traveled quickly through Iowa with only a brief stop at Blue Bunny in Les Mars Iowa: the Ice Cream Capitol of the World – VERY high on the list of Makenna’s bday stops. Then we blew through Illinois and Indiana stopping only at state parks to sleep and finally reached our home sweet home.
Farewell to the West! May we meet again soon ❤❤❤
Now please, pretty please tell me how very inspired you are to travel and where you’re headed next summer! Tell me your fave vacation destination: past or future, near or far! I want to hear some more ideas for adventure and exploration!! ❤